A fruitful opportunity for the Nationals against the Phillies

brushback_harperThe all-star break is almost here. After this weekend, all of the Nationals — except Jordan Zimmermann — will have four days to rest their aches and sores, and refresh. But before that, the Nationals have to get through a three-game series against the Phillies. And for the Nationals, there should be one mission: taking advantage of the lowly Phillies and keeping pace with the Braves. The Nationals are Braves are tied atop the National League East.

The Phillies are fresh off a four-game sweep of the stumbling Brewers but still sit in last place in the NL East. They are 41-51, nine games out of first place and are 18-27 at home. Thanks primarily to a struggling offense, the Phillies have a negative 42 run differential, the third lowest in the NL.

As has become the norm with the Phillies, the talk about them this time of the year is which of their players will be available via trade. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. even suggested recently that changes would be coming to their $180-million roster and offense because of poor performance.

The Phillies have a 85 OPS+ and are scoring 3.8 runs per game, worse than all teams but the Red Sox, Cardinals, Braves and Padres. An all-star last year, Domonic Brown has a .601 OPS. Carlos Ruiz is on the disabled list with a concussion. Jimmy Rollins is hitting .240. Ryan Howard has 14 home runs but a .226 average and 110 strikeouts. Ben Revere has a .662 OPS. Chase Utley (.804 OPS) and Marlon Byrd (18 home runs, 52 RBI and a .797) have been the team’s best two hitters. The offense has even resorted to calling up Grady Sizemore, who the Red Sox parted ways with last month.

The Nationals will face A.J. Burnett on Friday, Cole Hamels on Saturday and Kyle Kendrick on Sunday. The Nationals counter with Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark. Burnett and Kendrick has struggled this season while Hamels has been strong (a 2.87 ERA) but has been frustrated by poor run support. Two of those match-ups are advantages for the Nationals.

The Atlanta Braves close the first half of the season with three games in Chicago, one of the worst teams in the NL. Because of that, it’ll be difficult for the Nationals to create any separation with the Braves. But if they at least maintain their hold on first place or remained tied heading into the break, it will do well for the Nationals’ psyche. After all they have endured in the first half of the season, first place by the all-star break would an accomplishment.

FROM THE POST

Nationals fall to the Orioles, 4-3, and suffer a scare to Ian Desmond, writes Adam Kilgore.

For the Nationals and Orioles, an opportunity in front of them, writes Thomas Boswell.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Ian Desmond leaves game with hand injury

Bryce Harper hoping for a breakout after DL return

Anthony Rendon finishes fourth in All-Star final vote

How Adam LaRoche started walking more and striking out less

Think you know your Nats all-stars? Take this Bog quiz.

Anthony Rendon’s defense shines

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 11, Charlotte 6: Blake Treinen picked up his fifth win after allowing three runs on eight hits over five innings. Matt Grace fired two scoreless innings. Xavier Cedeno gave up three runs and Warner Madrigal had a scoreless ninth. Tyler Moore hit his fifth home run and Destin Hood added his sixth. Steven Souza Jr. went 4 for 5 with three doubles, two runs scored and two RBI. He’s hitting .374.

Bowie 11, Harrisburg 1: Zach Kroenke allowed six runs on 10 hits over 2 2/3 innings. Drew Vettleson went 2 for 4 with an RBI.

Potomac 4, Wilmington 3 (7): Dakota Bacus allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits over six innings. Gilberto Mendez fired a scoreless seventh. Eury Perez went 2 for 3 and Tony Renda drove in three runs. The second game was suspended because of rain.

Hagerstown 6, Lexington 4: Hector Silvestre allowed four runs, only one earned, on seven hits over eight innings. Andrew Coope earned his first save. Rafael Bautista went 4 for 5 with three runs scored and a home run. Spencer Kieboom went 3 for 5. Isaac Ballou drove in two runs.

Auburn 4, Connecticut 1: Travis Ott allowed one run over four innings. David Ramos fired three scoreless innings for his first win. Tyler Mapes earned his first save. Dale Carey hit his first home run. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz went 2 for 4.

Also on Nationals Journal

Ian Desmond leaves game with hand injury